FOUR BITS: baseball, Tebow, Watkins, Mincey

1 » No. 18 Florida Gators baseball (24-13) smacked the ball around Tuesday on its way to a 7-1 victory and regular-season series win over the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (24-14) at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, FL. The Gators were embarrassed in a Gainesville, FL round robin from Feb. 27-March 2, splitting a pair of games with the Eagles, but came up big Tuesday. Junior catcher Taylor Gushue (3/4, 2 RBI, R) was one of six Florida players to drive in a run, and sophomore shortstop Richie Martin (3/5, RBI, 2 R) did his job in the batter’s box as well. UF used four pitchers to seal the deal against FGCU with junior right-hander Ryan Harris (2.0 IP, H) earning the start and victory. Freshman lefty Kirby Snead (4.0 IP, H, K) ate up the most innings, and freshman RHP Shaun Anderson (1.0 IP) closed the door. The Gators have now won three-straight and four of their last five games.

2 » Former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow last week spoke at the Mississippi Coliseum as part of a fundraiser to help support Afghanistan war veteran CJ Stewart. Not only did Tebow himself pledge $10,000 and get four more audience members to do the same – meeting Stewart’s $100,000 goal – he also fielded questions about his life and football. Tebow said he hopes people won’t “talk about football when they talk about me in 50 years,” preferring his legacy to be “how I cared about people, and that I did something to make their lives better.” Seeing as he was in Mississippi, he also discussed UF’s loss to Ole Miss in 2008. “I consider that one of our biggest blessings,” he said, according to The Clarion Ledger. “We were a very talented team, but we needed more motivation. We went to practice in full pads that Sunday, and it was the most intense practice I’ve ever been in. So, thank you very much, Ole Miss.”

Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: baseball, Tebow, Watkins, Mincey

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Benches clear as Florida baseball tops No. 1 FSU

Florida Gators baseball has been up-and-down this season but pulled off its second-straight victory over the top team in the nation on Tuesday when it fought through a bench-clearing scuffle and took down the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles 4-1 at The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville in Jacksonville, FL.

Florida, which also beat Florida State 3-1 in Gainesville, FL last Tuesday, clinched the regular-season series over its in-state rival. The Gators (16-9) and Seminoles (19-5) will play the last contest in their three-game series in Tallahassee, FL on April 8.

It did not take long for UF to get on the board as junior second baseman Casey Turgeon (1/2, R, 2 BB) walked to open the bottom of the first and scored four batters later when junior first baseman Braden Mattson singled to right field.

The Gators boosted their advantage with two more runs in the sixth. Mattson (2/4, RBI, R, SB) singled to open the frame, advanced to second on a wild pitch and came around to score on a throwing error by pitcher Peter Miller, who corralled a sacrifice bunt from junior right-handed starter and designated hitter Justin Shafer but let it get away on a throw to first. Shafer scored unearned as freshman third baseman John Sternagel reached on a fielder’s choice with one out, and UF ended the inning leading 3-0.

Things got testy in Jacksonville two innings later when FSU left fielder D.J. Stewart hit a dribbler down the first-base line and collided with Florida sophomore lefty reliever Danny Young, who tried to field the ball in the base path but dropped it before Stewart arrived. UF junior 1B Zach Powers took offense to Stewart’s trucking of Young and met him chest-to-chest beyond the bag. Stewart responded by shoving Powers, and the benches cleared with both teams pushing and shoving.

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Florida baseball wins season-opening series

By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com Contributor

Winning their season-opening series could have been easier for the No. 20/23 Florida Gators, but coming out of the weekend with a 2-1 record was nevertheless a good start for a young squad that fought to the finish over the last three days.

Florida bookended the weekend with victories over the Maryland Terrapins (1-2) at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL, kicking things off with a 4-0 shutout Friday on opening night in the only game of the series that was televised.

Junior left-handed pitcher Bobby Poyner (5.1 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 5 K) delivered a solid outing as the opening night starter. Primarily used as a reliever and midweek starter during his first two seasons with the Gators, the third-year lefty made his case for a rotation spot this summer in the prestigious Cape Cod League, posting a 1.71 ERA over seven starts with the Orleans Fire. His five strikeouts Friday were a career-high, and Florida’s offense did a good job making him feel comfortable with some early runs.

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2014 Florida baseball primer: Bounce back year?

By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com Contributor

The unanimously top 25-ranked Florida Gators are hoping to bounce back from a disastrous 2013 campaign that saw the team go 29-27 in the regular season and get bounced out of both league and national postseason play without winning a single game.

UF also lost five players to the 2014 MLB Draft – including three top pitchers – and enters 2014 with a young but talented roster filled with up-and-coming prospects.

In the offseason, seventh-year head coach Kevin O’Sullivan signed a top-notch 2014 recruiting class ranked No. 1 nationally by Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball and Perfect Game. The 15-member class makes up 43 percent of Florida’s roster, which features two fourth-year players (redshirt juniors) but not a single senior.

One year ago, the departures of nine MLB draft selections loomed large on opening night. This Friday, when UF begins the 2014 campaign with a three-game home series against Maryland, the most notable absence from the lineup card will be a current Gators outfielder in sophomore Harrison Bader. Bader was indefinitely suspended after police suspected alcohol played a role in a Feb. 2 scooter accident. Without him, Florida lacks its best hitter (.312) and one of only four designated outfielders.

Here’s what O’Sullivan (252-132) has to work with as the Gators open the 2014 campaign looking to bounce back from last season’s disappointments and begin moving in the right direction toward another College World Series berth.

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Florida baseball quickly knocked out of regional

Florida Gators baseball was knocked out of the Bloomington Regional round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament in quick order over the weekend, losing late leads in both games and seeing its season end during regional play for the first time since 2008.

The Gators (29-30) finished the 2013 season with a sub-.500 record for both the first time since 2007 and first time under the leadership of head coach Kevin O’Sullivan.

Trailing the No. 21 Austin Peay Governors 1-0 through five innings on Friday, Florida took a lead in the top of the sixth as sophomore right fielder Justin Shafer (1/3, HR, 3 RBI, R) came through with a big three-run homer.

Unfortunately for the Gators, which got a solid start from junior right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford (6.1 IP, 4 H, ER, 4 BB, 5 K), sophomore RHP Ryan Harris could not hold on to the lead in the eighth. Harris (1.0 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 2 K) coughed up a three-run dinger to designated hitter Michael Davis that gave the Governors a 4-3 lead and sent UF down to the Bloomington Regional loser’s bracket.

Florida matched up against the Valparaiso Crusaders on Saturday in an elimination game and once again looked to have the upper hand.

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Samford hits three homers, blasts Florida 12-7

Ending the regular season with a four-game road trip to the state of Alabama, No. 3 Florida Gators baseball was hoping to start out hot on Tuesday and go into the postseason on a high note. Instead Florida (38-15) was routed 12-7 by the Samford Bulldogs (34-19) at Griffin Field in Birmingham, AL.

Samford took it to UF freshman right-hander Johnny Magliozzi right out of the gate, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first and tagging him for two more in the second. Magliozzi (4-3, 1.2 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, BB, K) easily had his worst outing of the season but was not the only Gators’ pitcher to struggle on Tuesday.

UF relievers freshman RHP Ryan Harris, sophomore RHP Keenan Kish and sophomore LHP Daniel Gibson combined to allow seven earned runs on eight hits (two home runs) and two walks with five strikeouts in 5.0 innings.

The Bulldogs added two more runs in the fourth and jumped ahead 7-0 as right fielder Brandon Miller hit his first bomb of the game. Florida outscored Samford 7-5 over the duration of the contest, which allowed the hosts to maintain a more-than-comfortable five-run advantage through the end of the game.

Miller (2/4, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 3 R, BB, K) was just one of four Bulldogs to register two or more RBIs, while junior catcher Mike Zunino (1/4, HR, 3 RBI, R) provided most of the power for the Gators’ offense by homering in his second-straight game.

Florida did experience one other bright spot on Tuesday, however, as senior right fielder Preston Tucker’s single in the top of the seventh tied the school record for career hits with 319 (Mark Ellis). Tucker finished the game 2/3 with a walk and three runs scored.

Samford evened the season series with UF 1-1 as the Gators previously picked up a 5-3 win in Gainesville, FL on March 20.

Florida will look to rebound from their upset loss by taking their frustrations out on Auburn in a three-game series beginning Thursday at 7 p.m.

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Florida baseball tops UNF 4-3 in 11 innings

Losing to the North Florida Ospreys on April 3 was a noticeable blemish on the Florida Gators’ portfolio this season so there was no doubt that one of the top teams in the country was looking for revenge Tuesday night in Gainesville, FL. It may have taken 11 innings but No. 5 Florida (36-13) got just that by taking down North Florida (28-21) 4-3 at McKethan Stadium to split the season series 1-1.

After wasting a number of opportunities to plate a run in the latter innings of the contest, junior catcher Mike Zunino (3/5, 2 RBI, SB, BB) came through in the clutch with a walk-off RBI double down the left field line in the bottom of the 11th to score redshirt freshman pinch hitter Connor Mitchell (1-2, R).

Freshman right-handed pitcher Johnny Magliozzi got the mid-week start for the Gators but struggled with his command early on, giving up a pair of earned runs on five hits with one walk and no strikeouts in 2.2 innings. Florida was able to match the runs by rallying in the bottoms of the second and third to tie the game 2-2.

The Gators took the lead in the fifth as junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (2/4, HR, RBI, R, 2 BB) began the frame with a solo homer. UF maintained their one-run advantage for the duration of sophomore RHP Keenan Kish’s appearance (4.0 IP, 4 H, 3 K).

Sophomore RHP Jonathon Crawford (0.1 IP, 2 H, ER, K) took over in the top of the eighth but did not fare well, allowing two hits and the game-tying run while only registering a single out. Florida had multiple opportunities to retake the lead in regulation but left the bases loaded in the eighth and a man on second in the ninth.

UNF threatened in the top of the 10th until junior left-hander Steven Rodriguez struck out consecutive batters with the bases loaded to get UF out of the inning. The Ospreys tried again in the 11th but were equally unsuccessful as freshman RHP Ryan Harris (2-0, 1.0 IP, H, K) got the final three outs of the contest.

The Gators now move on to their final home games of the regular season as they host Mississippi State in a three-game weekend series. Florida will also celebrate Senior Day for five upper classmen; a number of UF’s juniors will also be playing their last regular season game at McKethan Stadium over the weekend.

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Florida baseball completes season sweep of FSU

Despite entering Tuesday’s game having lost five of their last seven games, No. 4 Florida Gators baseball (26-8) completed the season series sweep of the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles (27-6) for the first time since 1958 with a big 6-3 victory on the road at Dick Howser Stadium in Tallahassee, FL.

Florida came from behind to defeat Florida State in all three of their games in 2012, taking down their in-state rivals 9-2 on March 13 in Gainesville, FL and 4-1 on March 27 in a neutral site game in Jacksonville, FL. With Tuesday night’s victory, UF has now swept FSU and Miami in the same season for the first time in school history.

After going down in order to start the game, Florida found themselves in an early hole as Florida State took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first off a solo homer by second baseman Devon Travis. The Gators loaded the bases with one out in each of the next two innings but stranded all six base runners and failed to get on the board.

The Seminoles made their visitors pay in the bottom of the third, jumping ahead 3-0 after a throwing error by UF junior catcher Mike Zunino and a sacrifice fly by FSU C Stephen McGee allowed two runs to cross the plate.

Florida would not stay down for long, however, finally getting on the board in the next frame. Junior shortstop Nolan Fontana walked to lead-off the fourth, moved over to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a looper double to right by senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (2/4, RBI, BB).

The Gators tied things up in the fifth when freshman 2B Casey Turgeon singled up the middle and Zunino (2/5, HR, 2 RBI, R) followed by smacking a two-run homer to left. It was not long before Florida took and increased their lead on Florida State. UF loaded the bases again in the sixth though only Fontana scored after Turgeon (3/5, RBI, R) singled to left with two outs. Fontana (2/3, HR, RBI, 3 R, 2 BB) continued his stellar offensive performance the next inning with a solo shot to right in the seventh to give his team a two-run cushion.

Though the Gators undoubtedly got the help of some clutch hitting in the middle innings, the pitching in relief of junior left-handed starter Brian Johnson (3.0 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, BB, 4 K) was perhaps even more impressive.

Freshman right-hander Ryan Harris forced eight ground ball outs and registered one strikeout in three no-hit innings, and junior LHP Steven Rodriguez followed by striking out the side (all looking) in the bottom of the seventh. Junior closer Austin Maddox then came on to finish things up, registering the final five outs of the ballgame.

Florida will look to build on Tuesday’s victory when they travel to Knoxville, TN for a three-game weekend series against Tennessee on Friday (6 p.m.), Saturday (3 p.m.) and Sunday (2 p.m.). Saturday’s contest will air live on FOX Sports Florida.

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